Reading chalked up their third WSL victory of the season, and first of 2023, at the SCL Stadium this afternoon with a deserved 2-1 victory against West Ham United. It came via two great second-half goals from Charlie Wellings and Rachel Rowe.
This win means that Reading are now up to ninth in the table, leapfrogging both Brighton and Tottenham Hotspur - the latter now find themselves under some league pressure after a poor run of form, including being knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend by the Royals. Importantly, it also means a four-point gap from bottom-of-the-table Leicester, who now only have one game in hand.
It’s been a long wait for the home fans - the last match at the SCL was back in January against Manchester United (and the record match attendance of over 5,000). It was one worth waiting for with all of Reading’s 10 league points (and better performances) having been earned at home. West Ham now join Tottenham and Leicester in leaving the SCL with zero points, with the 3-3 thrilling draw against Liverpool, back in November, making up the double-digit league tally.
Kelly Chambers rewarded last week’s FA Cup winning team with a similar line-up for today and a rare WSL start for Grace Moloney in goal. The only change appeared to be forced with Faye Bryson coming in for Lily Woodham, who was missing from the matchday squad.
Team: Moloney, Bryson, Kith, Evans, Mukandi, Vanhaevermaet, Moore, Eikeland, Wellings, Rowe, Harries (Troelsgaard, 70)
Unused subs: Burns (GK), Hendrix, Caldwell, Meadows-Tuson, Wade
The manager spoke pre-match of last weekend’s win helping bring some much-needed confidence to the squad and this certainly appeared to be evident in this afternoon’s performance, right from the kick-off. In fact, after a fairly even and goalless first half, the Royals’ confidence appeared to grow and they dominated the second period.
The first half included efforts from both teams but neither team really threatened to open the deadlock. The Reading goalkeeper was called into action a couple of times in the first half, both headers, both requiring saves at the near post and both attempts from Amalie Thestrup. The first header was a decent save with Grace Moloney palming the ball around the post and out for a corner, while the second was parried away from a tight angle.
Wellings enjoyed Reading’s best chances of the first half and was unlucky not to score. An early shot was defended well and blocked. With only a few minutes of the first half remaining, Wellings had two great chances to put the Royals ahead. After a great move and pass from Justine Vanhaevermaet, Wellings’ execution failed her and her left-foot shot was fired wide of the goal.
With virtually the last kick of the first half, and within the two minutes of time added on, Wellings got on the end of a cross from Faye Bryson but somehow managed to get her foot well and truly under the ball, resulting in her close-range effort going over the crossbar from within the six-yard box - when a goal looked imminent.
It was hugely encouraging to see both the Reading team and Wellings not get disheartened by missed attempts - and, instead, get back on the front foot and really take control of the match. Within two minutes of the restart, Amalie Eikeland had an early effort which, unfortunately, lacked power.
The hard-working Wellings was unable to get on the end of an Emma Mukandi cross and, on the hour marker, it was Reading captain Mukandi who forced a terrific save from MacKenzie Arnold in the West Ham goal after it looked like the ball was going to fly into the top left-hand corner.
Wellings got her just reward for her efforts when she unleashed an unstoppable shot on 66 minutes, starting and finishing a great move and pass with the evergreen and ever reliable Rachel Rowe. 1-0 to the Royals and deservedly so.
Reading’s only substitution of the afternoon came shortly afterwards with Sanne Troelsgaard replacing Emma Harries in attack.
With the Royals looking like they were in complete control, and the team likely to score the next score, it was both frustrating and disappointing that a lapse in concentration saw the visitors draw level on the 77th minute. Vivianne Asseyi latched onto a cross from the right behind the Reading defence and caught Faye Bryson out at the back post. 1-1.
Kelly Chambers’ team have shown some great resilience and bouncebackability (as Steve Coppell used to say) late in matches (often without reward); today was another good example of this and with just reward too!
Not for the first time, it was Rachel Rowe that came to the rescue. With just five minutes of normal time remaining she released another of her trademark scorchers, unleashing a rocket of a shot into the top right-hand corner - both to the celebrations of her teammates and warming up the home-crowd Loyal Royals. 2-1.
There was a last-gasp, heart-in-mouth moment in the final minute of normal time when another West Ham headed attempt this time hit the crossbar - but was cleared on the rebound.
It’s been a long time coming, with Reading’s last WSL win and much-needed three points arriving against Spurs in early December. But this is hopefully the start of more to come - with confidence growing again on the back of today’s match, the performance against Manchester United and the recent victories in both the Conti Cup and FA Cup.
It’s a tough match (but aren’t they all?) away to Arsenal in the late 18:45 kick-off next week. See you there!